Pat Metheny and Kenny G: Part 2

This is a follow-up post by Pat that was written a few days after the previous one.

(June 10) A few days ago, I wrote a response on this web site (the pmgln) to questions that had come in regarding an offhand comment that I made about musician Kenny G that became a mildly notorious net-disseminated video/soundbyte (at least among the folks that posted on the topic on the site). My 'explanation' was intended for the 100 or so people who contributed to and followed the thread in question on our web site and kept sending in questions to the 'q and a' section of the site about it. of course, I overlooked the possibility that someone would copy THAT response and post IT on what now seems to be a bunch of other sites and newsgroups around the web, where of course, rightly, many folks can not understand what the big fuss is all about, because like the initial comment , the context was missing (or maybe it’s just because of the probably also justified, 'who cares?/what is the problem?! it’s only Kenny G!!' - factor ). Whatever.

But the response has been interesting. My mail box is flooded with a bunch of 'you go, Pat!' type missives from the (seemingly legions of) G-bashers worldwide and a lesser number but equally impassioned folks expressing dismay that i would be so low as to use my 'bully pulpit' (!!) to 'humiliate' the hapless Mr. G or that I was 'way over the top' and 'unprofessional' in my 'fierce defense' of the standards that are set and accepted within the world of the music that I love and work in. There are even the predictable variations from the archetypically sanctimonious jazz-purist-types who of course must question 'how can Pat Methane, of all people, presume to defend Louis Armstrong against Kenny G?' - that’s one I should have seen coming up 6th avenue, had I been in new York at the time! Wait a minute, I was!

Among my favorites of all of these is this from robboer; '...... (This) leads me to wonder at the level of furious and terribly angry horrible invective that has come from (Pat and) our fellow listeners (towards Kenny G) .... There have been whole lists and topics devoted to the shrill and angry denouncement of Mr. Gorelick and his smooth ilk. I have nightmares of these gentle folk, led by their true God Pat, rising up to find poor Kenny and drag him from his bed, brandishing his vapid CDs, and crucifying him for his sacrilegious shallow, mollusk like, and repetitive horn playing and defilement of the holy Louie.'

And then I thought, yeah, rob!!! that sounds about right - let’s go DO that!!! no, seriously; to the people who seem to care one way or the other about this (which appears to have grown from the initial 26 to a fairly hefty 87 and counting); I thought I would respond to a few of the questions that people had sent in to our board since I hadn’t done it in a while, and that one (the 'G' question) came up on the list first. I quickly tossed off a response thinking that there were a few funny (and yes, sincere) things in there that the aforementioned 26 people who read that board would get a kick out of (no, folks, I won’t be hitting anyone in the head with my guitar, despite the fact that 'El Kabong' WAS probably my first major guitar influence as a kid) and thought that it would it least put the little sound byte that had been floating around of me saying basically, 'Kenny G sucks' (I wonder if bevies got letters from the same folks as me?) in some kind of context for the folks who kept writing me to insist that I 'explain' it. (again, I have to think, what needs explaining?? it’s KENNY G!!) so, let me just add this for the folks who question the wisdom of actually 'going public' with such a 'harsh' view (IT’S KENNY G!! IT’S KENNY G!! IT’S KENNY G!!).

No, I don’t really presume in any way whatsoever that my little 2 cents on the G-man and his contributions to the demise of American culture are going to make even one iota of difference or have any real significance nor do I expect it to, to either G himself or the legions of fans that actually dig hearing him play - and god bless all of em. (nor, for that matter, will the other tetragazzillionbytes of bandwidth that have been taken up in discussion about him, me, Winton Marseilles or anyone else in this or other forums), peoples words and opinions about music, mine included ('stature' be damned), especially when jotted down, are largely for the pleasure of the language, they mostly have less to do with the music in question than the cultural point of view that they are offered in and usually intrinsically designed to illuminate/castigate/defend/whatever - but about the best you can say about those words is they are superfluous in relation to the actual sounds in question when one is actually listening.

Like any fan of music, I’ve got my opinions, too - and from this episode I guess I should think twice about saying em out loud.** but, for what it’s worth, I can safely say that I personally have never read anything, good or bad, from anyone anywhere that has had any impact whatsoever on the actual musical issues that involve my most every waking minute. dare I say, somewhat sadly in this case, that the same is probably true with the G-man (and his audience, let’s not let the XX-million people who actually bought the record off the hook) as well.

So, anyway, the real job for me and other musicians out there that are trying to find the good notes, in fact, has nothing to do with talking, or with opinions; the real challenge is to try to make music that is the antidote to the disease, a symptom of which might be under discussion here. I do passionately believe that there is the possibility to make music that renders these kinds of discussions, and even the kind of music in discussion here, moot. like for instance, the reality of the music that Louis Armstrong gave the world at his best.

One last thing - it is a little alarming to me to see that my little rant on this topic seems to have generated such a relatively huge response. it makes me feel that in this day and age, even within the 'jazz community', controversy, especially PUBLIC controversy, has the chance to 'win' over musical substance, even in terms of what gets discussed - people seem to absolutely love it. I have seen (and have never dug) at least one of my peers banking on this for a few years now with his public pronouncements and I have to admit that I underestimated the impact/interest that a 'negative' public comment even on an obscure corner of the web can manifest. I guess I wish that the actual playing and writing could generate the kind of discussion that what was essentially an off the cuff cultural/political blurb into cyberspace seemed to. again, it seems more practicing and better music needs to be involved - gonna continue to work hard on that (finding the good notes) as a goal.

But then again, shouldn’t someone say something about this? isn’t it our responsibility? or is it actually just cool, Kenny G and a dead Louis in the year of his 100th birthday? even if it was his sappiest track ever, there is still so much valuable and rare information in the way he sang even THAT tune - like with everything he sang or played - that is the SHIT - and somehow juxtaposed with G, I don’t know, there is something practically obscene about it to me, obviously.

As far as I know (and it is very possible that I missed something) the major jazz and music mags (not to mention time or newsweek or something) have not really had too much to say about the subject other than the usual Kenny G bashing and maybe a little eye-rolling, nor do I know of any other prominent musicians who have spoken out on the subject. Maybe as someone put it, dissing Kenny G is like 'shooting fish in a barrel, he would have to be the world’s easiest musical target' but, isn’t this different? or are we all so numb to all the crap out there and so worn down by the apathy of the general public to any higher musical intentions that it really doesn’t matter to anyone anymore, something like this?

(one final final aside on this; I actually do know someone who works as an animator at MTV’s Celebrity Death Match where I suggested that they arrange a 'Kenny G vs. The ghost of Louis Armstrong' match to settle this once and for all!)

Also, listen to this Streaming Audio interview with Pat courtesy of jazzpromo.com!

Pat's comments are © Pat Metheny

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